Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the traditional office landscape has changed. Don’t be mistaken, it has been changing for quite some time now, but the degree to which it should be shifting has become a hot topic in industries such as technology and finance. Many employees consider their at-home workspace to be the ideal work environment, some may even consider their local coffee shop to be theirs. However, there are others who still prefer the traditional workspace. It makes you wonder - will the idea of ‘traditional workplaces’ soon become the exception?
For months now, we have been forced to reassess the value of co-located work.
We reached out to Laurel Farrer, CEO & Founder of Distribute, a consulting firm specialising exclusively in remote work and virtual organisation development, to answer the big question: Is remote work sustainable beyond the pandemic?
Short answer, yes… but with the right tools and updates to work models and processes.
We have to acknowledge the fact that most of us were thrown into remote work in early 2020 without even fully understanding what that meant and what it looked like. Working from home for most businesses was implemented as a temporary contingency plan. However, as companies embrace workplace flexibility, it is not sustainable to be operating on that once-temporary contingency plan anymore.
The change management process to become a fully-remote or hybrid organisation sounds overwhelming, but it isn’t. All it requires is careful intention, attention, and prioritising the following tasks. Before you know it, you’re setting your team up for long-term success.
Many organisations have taken the “let’s try this” approach as we navigate uncharted waters, and that’s completely fine, especially when we’ve been thrown in the deep end. However, as we embrace flexible work, we need to provide a much-needed structure for distributed teams and a remote work (or flexible work) policy is how we do that.
A remote work policy provides your workforce with the information they need to be empowered and successful when working outside of the 'physical' office. It includes information such as organisational charts, outline of expectations, tool and equipment checklists, and handy culture development resources to support the overall employee experience.
In late April, Atlassian announced a remote work policy that would enable its global staff of 5,700 to work from anywhere in the world. Not only does the policy reflect the company’s global approach to talent, but it fully embraces the flexibility employees expected in conducting their work.
Having a strong policy will lead to happier, healthier and more productive workers and contribute to a positive work culture where employees feel safe and supported.
Leaders should strive to create a location-irrelevant model, where everyone has access to all of the tools and resources needed to be productive no matter where they are - be it at home, in the office, at their local coffee shop, or even in another country. This is what would contribute to sustainable success.
As stressed by Laurel, without prioritising this, it becomes a huge risk for almost every single organisation - you just don’t know it yet.
“This is going to be the downfall of companies that want to adopt remote work and it starts to blow up in their faces and they don’t know why.”
In fact, just last week, Canva had announced that they have changed their approach to focus “on flexibility and connection and abolish any formal rules around office attendance”. They have also added that the pandemic “disproved the notion of collaboration being best in one way or in one place.”
However, the reality of connectedness is that modern professionals are at risk of experiencing isolation, regardless of if they have oceans or desks between them. When there is an imbalanced employee experience of accessibility to information, discrimination happens. What appears to be small, minor, co-located instances will eventually snowball into bigger problems that become a liability for both the company and employee.
“A lot of companies think “We have great culture because we are remote!”, and that is completely inaccurate.”
Culture is not about perks and benefits; those are expressions of culture.
To reimagine your culture for the virtual environment is about returning to the foundations of the organisation and supporting your teams through the lens of your mission, vision and core values. Embrace the opportunity to create new remote-first rituals for your team if you haven’t already, and work with intention to ensure the team is engaging with and getting the intended result from these rituals.
Remember: Remote work can look very different between two companies operating the same workplace model. By identifying what the virtual culture is what the overall employee experience looks like, organisations will be able to attract and retain talents based on what they offer to their remote employees.
Is your organisation offering expressions of culture - free food and a ping-pong table - or psychological safety?
Ed Zitron left an important reminder on The Atlantic – abusive work cultures believe that the responsibility of a 9-to-5 employee isn’t the work, but about keeping up with the appearance, optics, and making the work itself ceremonial. This is the mindset that is holding companies back from fully embracing flexibility, and are delaying an inevitable remote future.
…and what exactly should you be investing in?
New ways of work require new approaches to help leaders connect with their team.